Roddy Doyle Love in Need of Counseling

Love (2020)

By Roddy Doyle

Penguin Random House, 328 pages





Have you ever been in a pub in which people are getting so blasted that stories start, stop, start, stop, meander, start and stop? If the dynamics of such a conversation fascinate you, you will enjoy Roddy Doyle’s Love. If not, you will find it tedious.


Love covers a long day in Dublin in which two men in their late fifties who’ve not seen each other in decades reconnect. Joe and Davy were best friends in their school days, but Davy has lived in Oxfordshire, England for nearly 40 years, and Joe remained in Ireland. This sets the table for an awkward conversation in which what they think they know about each other has been dipped in now-hardened amber that only partially dissolves in the heat of a string of Irish pubs.


Over the course of the day, the two get drunk and sober numerous times. Joe does most of the talking, with Davy acting as a combination inquisitor/voyeur whose reason for wanting to hear Joe’s tale is ambiguous. The only deep connection between the two lies in the 1980s, when they perceived themselves becoming “men” the first time they entered George’s Pub, were addressed as “gentlemen,” argued about music, and quaffed legal pints. After that, their bond is hazy and it’s not just the drink that’s talking. Joe false starts many times over in a story about a girl they both allegedly mooned over back in the days, though Davy claims to recall only that he thought her attractive in the few times he saw her and never knew her name. In their adult lives, Joe married Trish, whom Davy knew back then, and Davy wed the tart-tongued, whip smart Faye.


Both men profess deep love for their wives but, in Joe’s case, there is a twist: Jessica, the girl from the pub. He tries to tell Davy about how he met Jessica 37 years later at a parent conference at his daughter’s school. He has moved in with her and, Joe claims, they’ve not even had sex but he loves her for reasons he can’t articulate. Neither man, it seems, can articulate much of anything, though they do tell each other to “fuck off” numerous times. (In a good way?) Joe still loves Trish and thinks she’s “grand,” but says he needs to be with Jessica. At times Joe’s rambling justifications reminded me of an old David Crosby song, “Triad,” in which he sang “I don’t really see/Why can’t we go on as three?” Mostly, though, the day’s drinking yields verbalizations more akin to a doll whose string one pulls to hear it speak the limited set of phrases in its repeating loop.


Doyle intersperses flashback chapters, which was a good strategy or we’d know almost nothing about Davy. He too carries a burden, though from something of a different nature from Joe’s. I shall say no more about it, as it provides the book’s only real revelation. I have enjoyed many of Doyle’s past efforts–especially The Barrytown Pentalogy and Smile–but he misfires in Love. The most intriguing thing about the novel is its title. Does it refer to someone being there when most you need them? Ideal (or idealized) love? Immersion in a culture one understands without filters? Deep friendship lurking beneath shallow surfaces? All of the above? If Doyle wants us to ponder such things, he failed. It seems all the world as if the greatest love is that pint of beer on the book jacket.


I wish I had kept a stroke count of the number of pints Joe and Davy consumed over a roughly 10-hour period. They were certainly plentiful enough to make me disbelieve that either man could still be on his feet. Are we supposed to see Joe and Davy as the Ghost of Irish Alcoholism Past? There’s not enough to suggest that, aside from a few oblique remarks about people in business suits quaffing white wine and Joe and Davy’s obviously false remarks that they’ve pretty much given up drinking. Indeed, one could come away from Love with the accusation that Doyle is trading in stereotypes. (For the record, 7.4% of Americans are alcoholics; in the Republic of Ireland it’s 6%.) However we want to spin this, Love is a beer-fueled version of the movie Diner (1982) without the wit and humor.


Rob Weir  


Nine Perfect Strangers Entertains, but Pulls Its Punches


Nine Perfect Strangers (2018)

By Liane Moriarty

Flatiron Books, 453 pages.




If you enjoy creepy and funny,  Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers is the sort of novel that grows darker degree by degree and even then, what you see isn’t exactly what you get. That’s both a good thing and (sometimes) a disappointing one. 

It opens in Sydney–Moriarty is Australian–where high-powered executive Masha Dmitrichenko is clearly ill, though she insists she’s fine and continues to respond to emails as EMTs check her vital signs. She orders them about, then goes into cardiac arrest. Ten years later, Frances Welty, a 52-year-old romance writer of declining reputation is having a panic attack over her decision to check into Tranquillum House for her bad back, weight issues, a devastating book review, and heartbreak over an Internet romance that was actually a scam. She can’t even get in the gate until a young couple, Ben and Jessica Chandler, show up in a flashy Lamborghini and punch in a code that was apparently too much for Frances.


 You’ve now met three of the nine perfect strangers who think a health retreat will cure their First World woes. The Chandlers are filthy rich after winning millions in a lottery, but with the cash has come an inability to deal with realities such as the fact that Ben’s sister is a drug addict and that Ben cares more about his car than he does about Jessica, whose numerous Kardashian-like body “improvement” surgeries are turn offs. The Marconi family–teacher Napoleon, midwife Heather, and their about-to-be 21-year-old daughter Zoe–are very fit, but harbor deep hurt over Zachary’s suicide three years earlier. (He was Zoe’s twin.) To the mix, add Lars Lee, a gay 40-year-old lawyer, who fears he will lose his partner who wants kids; Carmel Schneiber, a divorced 39-year-old mother of four daughters who needs to lose a few pounds; and Tony Hogburn, a divorced 56-year-old former Australian football star who needs to lose a lot of weight and get over his dog’s death. 


 Tranquillum House has mostly great ratings on social media sites, even from those who warn some of its modalities are unusual. Now meet the staff, massage therapist Jan, who has a new relationship with a cop; office assistant Delilah; personal assistant Yao, who was part of the EMT crew that worked on Masha 10 years earlier; and Masha herself, reborn as a New Age spiritualist, health food advocate, and salesperson extraordinaire. She promises that in ten days, each person in the group will be transformed. 


 Things get off on the wrong foot. Some guests who tried to smuggle in forbidden contraband (junk food, booze, tobacco, gadgets) are angry that their bags were gone through while they were doing yoga; Ben freaks when he can’t see his car; Heather thinks she smells a fraud; Lars sees lawsuits at every turn; and Zoe has smuggled in a few things. Only Napoleon seems willing to go with a program that begins with three days of “noble silence.” Decisions are split as to whether Masha is a genius or as twisted as an Outback snake. 


 Exactly! Moriarty wants to keep us off balance. There are numerous moments in the book in which someone you trust proves unworthy, or another you think is sane is crazier than a kookaburra. No matter what one might think of Masha’s intent, her methods are at best unorthodox and her spiritual exterior is easily pierced to reveal an arrogant Russian soul. We come to suspect her of evil intentions, but are we correct?


 Nine Perfect Strangers is a good end-of-summer page turner that manages to keep reader attention, even though we realize early on it’s no weightier than one of Frances’ romance novels. Moriarty had me until the very end, in which where she rolled everything in an easily digestible sugar coating and asked me to swallow. She even takes voice away from her characters and as, as the formerly hidden observer, assumes a role akin to free-frame coda labels at the end of movies that tell us what happens to the characters in the future. Do we need to know this, or is like the Wizard of Oz stepping out from behind the curtain? The latter, I think. In the wink of an eye, Nine Perfect Strangers goes from a yeasty stout to a Bud Light. 


 Rob Weir   


TurnPark Art Center: Don't Miss It

 TurnPark Art Space

2 Moscow Road

West Stockbridge MA


Ever been inside an eye made from twigs?
Ever been inside an eyeball made from twigs?

A decade and a half ago, two Russian immigrants, Igor Gomberg and Kaya Brezgunova, had a vision. Before moving to the United States, they had befriended artist Nikolai Silis and had spent time at his Moscow studio. As is often the case with artists, Silis’ studio was also a community gathering spot. Gomberg and Brezgunova wanted to create something like that in their new home and found an ideal spot in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on a small bluff that sits against the pond of an old quarry. From this TurnPark Art Space was born. It’s no accident that many of the artists represented are also Russian, Russian-American, or from former Soviet republics.

 TurnPark Art Space is deceptive in its outward appearance. A low slung whitewashed concrete building greets you as you pull into its parking lot. The side closest to you is a windowless blank, though the other has glass that helps illumine indoor exhibits. The galleries are small and are closed at present, but the grounds are open. Officially, this white structure, which looks like it might have escaped from Mies van der Rohe’s sketchpad, is called the Gatehouse. You can walk through it and see a few pieces, but after putting money in the donation box, I suggest you walk atop it.

Bohr and Einstein

Don Quixote

TurnPark Art Space is deceptive. At first glance, it looks small and, by the standards of places such as New York’s Storm King or the deCordova in Concord, Massachusetts, it is. Still, TurnPark Art Space is bigger than you imagine: 16 acres and growing. A winding path takes you on a journey that’s a blend of sculpture, environmental art, and conceptual pieces. One of the first pieces you see will bring a smile. At a glance, Vladimir Lemport’s “Bohr and Einstein” might look a bit like Ma and Pa Kettle smoking matching corn cob pipes, but the name gives it away. Lemport is whimsically honoring Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, arguably the two greatest names in 20th century physics. Another amusing piece comes from none other than Nikolai Silis himself, “Don Quixote V” shows Cervantes’ noble fool cast in steel and sniffing a cut tin daisy. 

Inhabitants of Childhood

There are lots of real daisies and woodland flora to be viewed along the path, as well as a stone amphitheater that, in non-COVID times, is the setting for performances of everything from classic
al music and dance to lectures, yoga, ethnic fairs, movies, and comedy. The middle part of the grounds, where one finds the amphitheater, is a grassy expanse hemmed in by woods. For a unique look at this setting, see it reflected in “Heliograph 2,” a Vadim Kosmatscher inground mobile. If you want frisson from something spookier, installations from Uta Bekaia’s “Inhabitants of Childhood” will do the trick. His childhood was apparently more something out of the Grimm Brothers and macabre Georgian folk tales than Winnie the Pooh! 


Some of the pieces are just fun, such as stylized discuss and shotput competitors, and others that look amusing are more profound. This is notably the case of “Rain” from Ukraine’s Nazar Bilyk. It depicts a six-foot bronze figure with upturned head and a giant glass raindrop resting across his face. Bilyk wants us to consider several things, not the least of which is humankind’s delicate and precarious place within nature. There are also works that fall into the conceptual realm, such as Ben Butler’s “Jigsaw,” Gene Montez Flores’ “Puerto,” and Alexander Konstantinov’s “Wandering Rocks.” 


You may not like everything you see. To me, Konstantinov’s work on top of the Gateway evokes stacked window frames, though I liked his installation across the pond on the quarry wall, which is truly suggestive of rock striations. This is the beauty of art such as you will see at TurnPark. You can be enthralled or baffled, none of it is stuff you see every day, a mark in its favor. A bigger one still is that art such as Bilyk’s “Rain” stretches the mind. There are many meanings and interpretations one can assign to such pieces and each is probably valid. Plus, the grounds are simply a nice place to commune with your surroundings and plop down for an informal picnic.

Don’t worry about having trouble finding TurnPark. The go-to stop in West Stockbridge is No. Six Depot, a popular coffee and light snack destination. TurnPark is just up the hill from it. Don’t make my mistake of being in West Stockbridge dozens of times before finally paying a visit to the TurnPark Art Space.


Rob Weir